Flying with an Emotional Support Animal

In order to fly with an Emotional Support Animal in the cabin of the aircraft with you, you will need a special letter from a licensed mental health professional.

These requirements for the letter are excerpted from

The letter:
* must not more than one year old
* must be on the professional's letterhead
* must be from a mental health professional

and must state all of the following:

1. That the passenger has a mental health-related DISABILITY that appears in the DSM-IV. Note it is not just a mental illness diagnosis, but a mental illness which SUBSTANTIALLY LIMITS ONE OR MORE MAJOR LIFE ACTIVITIES. Airlines are not permitted to require the documentation to specify the type of mental health disability or the specific diagnosis, but the letter must state that the diagnosis appears in the DSM-IV.

2. That the presence of the animal is NECESSARY to the passenger's health or treatment.

3. That the individual writing the letter is a licensed mental health professional and that the passenger is under his or her care. The individual writing the letter should clearly indicate what type of mental health care professional they are (psychiatrist, psychologist, clinical social worker, et cetera).

NOTE: Airlines may also require documentation including the date, type, and state of the mental health professional's license.

Some airlines do call the professional's office to verify the contents of the letter.

"The purpose of this provision is to prevent abuse by passengers that do
not have a medical need for an emotional support animal and to ensure that
passengers who have a legitimate need for emotional support animals are
permitted to travel with their service animals on the aircraft."

Effective May 13, 2009:

"[U]nder section 382.117(e), airlines can require passengers traveling with emotional support or psychiatric service animals to provide certain documentation. This information is not a medical certificate in the sense articulated in section 382.23, but airlines are entitled to obtain this documentation as a condition of permitting the emotional support or psychiatric service animal to travel in the cabin with the passenger."


"The final rule limits use of emotional support animals to persons with a diagnosed mental or emotional disorder, and the rule permits carriers to insist on recent documentation from a licensed mental health professional to support the passenger’s desire to travel with such an animal. In order to permit the assessment of the passenger’s documentation, the rule permits carriers to require 48 hours’ advance notice of a passenger’s wish to travel with an emotional support animal."


(on professional's office letterhead)


(Patient's name) is currently under my professional care for treatment for a mental illness defined by the DSM-IV. His/her mental impairment substantially limits one or more major life activities. I have prescribed an emotional support animal as part of the treatment program developed for (patient's first name). The presence of this emotional support animal is necessary for (patient's first name)'s mental health.

I am licensed by the state of (state) to practice (medicine/psychiatry/therapy--choose applicable). My license number is (license number).

Please allow (patient's full name) to be accompanied by his/her emotional support animal in the cabin of the aircraft, in accordance with the Air Carrier Access Act (49 U.S.C. 41705 and 14 C.F.R. 382).

(doctor's name and title)

Other things to consider bringing include a health certificate and vaccine records. It is also often recommended that your dog be well trained before flying. This will ensure that your dog is kept safe in the airport and that you are more likely to get on the plane with your dog.

When making a reservation to fly with an ESA, call 48 hours in advance to ensure that they know your dog is coming along. Bulk head seating is recommended to ensure that your dog has enough space. Also take into consideration that dogs are not allowed in exit rows. You can find your seats ahead of time by using Seat Guru.

In preparation for the flight, restrict meals and water. Cut off food and water for the most part four hours before the flight. Give your dog small amounts of water from time to time as needed though. Make a potty break right before entering the airport.

You also qualify for pre-boarding because you have your dog with you. Pre-boarding will allow your dog to get settled in ahead of time. Reach the gate ahead of time and talk to the gate agent. Tell them that you would like to pre-board.